By Carol Jensen and Ron Young
In the popular contemporary Christian hymn, “Canticle of the Turning,” the refrain ends with the hopeful words, “the world is about to turn.” The famous Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, tells us, “the power of turning never reveals itself outside of crisis.”
A near total (97 percent) consensus among scientists tells us that we face a profound crisis today over dangers from global warning, primarily caused by human activity and specifically by overuse of fossil fuels. A Gallup Poll in 2017 tells us that 84 percent of Americans worry “a lot” or “some” about global warming, while only 16 percent worry “not at all.” A poll this spring reveals that most registered voters believe the United States should reduce polluting greenhouse gas emissions, while only 4 percent of voters believe the U.S. should not reduce its emissions.
Washington state is playing a unique, leading role in the nationwide response to the problem of pollution and scientifically verifiable dangers of global warming. The Trump administration seems to ignore or deny the problems, pulling out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and prompting the EPA to gut long-standing health and environmental protections, and cancel new positive regulations to reduce cabon dioxide emissions. This is the context in which signing, circulating and urging others to sign state Initiative 1631 is important, urgent and the right thing to do.
Initiative 1631 is already endorsed by more than 100 Washington state organizations, including faith communities, businesses, labor unions, environmental and clean energy advocates, health professionals, Washington tribal nations and communities of color advocates. This may well be the broadest support of any initiative in Washington state history. We all do our part to keep Washington clean, but right now the largest polluters can pollute for free while we all pay the costs. I-1631 would put a fee ($15 per ton) on the state’s largest polluters, including the oil industry and utilities that have not switched to clean energy, and would invest in protecting our air and water, clean energy infrastructure, and in new jobs across the state.
In addition to incredibly broad-based support for the initiative, another unique feature of the proposal is the requirement that the revenue collected from I-1631 cannot simply be used by the state government as general funds but will be allocated by a broad-based, publicly accountable board, made up of experts and trusted community leaders. As examples, I-1631 will invest in developing job-generating clean energy alternatives, including wind, solar and other renewable resources, transportation alternatives, better home and building energy efficiency, and it will provide support to communities hardest hit by pollution because the neighborhood you live in shouldn’t determine if your air is clean and your water is safe to drink.
It’s almost impossible any more, no matter who you voted for in 2016, to ignore the threats of pollution and global warming. Even with Trump administration appointees heading all the national intelligence agencies, the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community recently warned:
“The impact of the long-term trends toward a warmer climate, more air pollution, bio-diversity loss, and water scarcity are likely to fuel economic and social discontent, and possibly upheaval. … The last few years have been the warmest on record. Extreme weather events in a warmer world have the potential for greater impacts and can compound with other drivers to raise the risk of humanitarian disasters, conflict, water and food shortages, population migration, labor shortfalls, price shocks, and power outages.”
Our state has a legacy of protecting the home we all share. We know if we don’t act now, the threats from pollution and global warming will only get worse and cause more harm to our communities and risks for our children’s future. I-1631 is a practical first step in our state to ensure clean air and clean water and represents a significant contribution in the larger campaign to reduce the threat of global warming.
Faith communities are supporting Initiative 1631 based on deep concern about the disproportionate impact of pollution and climate change on communities of color and on already impoverished people, as well as a fundamental commitment to care for creation, a responsibility entrusted to us by our Creator. It will take faithful, intelligent, persistent citizen efforts and action over many years on many levels — local, state, national, and international — to creatively meet the challenges of global warming. In the next weeks and months, the most important contribution we can make here in Washington state is to get Initiative 1631 on the November ballot and approved by Washington voters.
The Rev. Carol Jensen is co-chair of the statewide Faith Action Network. Ron Young is an activist and author. Jensen and Young are married and live in Everett. Email Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.